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D-backs embrace expectations as they report to spring training

Arizona Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt, right, is congratulated by teammate A.J. Pollock following his two-run home run against the Houston Astros during the seventh inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, in Phoenix. The Diamondbacks defeated the Astros 5-3. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For many Arizona Diamondbacks players Wednesday was no different than the previous day or days. For many, those days had extended into weeks, if not months.

It’s the one advantage the D-backs have over their National League competitors.

Just 21 miles northeast of Chase Field, the D-backs’ spring training home — Salt River Fields at Talking Stick — gives D-backs players year-round access to first-class facilities. The proximity to home for many D-backs, who live in the Valley year-round, makes reporting day just another day.

“It’s like we’ve had spring training going for the last couple of weeks,” pitcher Josh Collmenter said, referring to the number of players constantly in the clubhouse.

The excitement for pitchers and catchers reporting has been building for a while now — especially around the D-backs.

The offseason additions of starters Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller plus reliever Tyler Clippard as well as infielder Jean Segura put the D-backs squarely in the spotlight, not only within the National League West, but all of baseball.

Then there’s returning All-Stars in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who finished second in the MVP voting for the second time in three years, and center fielder A.J. Pollock, both of whom helped anchor an offense that averaged the second-most runs per game of any team in the league last season.

“We embrace these expectations, but we have not done anything on the field yet,” manager Chip Hale said. “Obviously on paper we look like we’ve improved our club. We feel like we have improved.”

The D-backs won 79 games in 2015, Hale’s first year, a 15-game improvement from the previous season when they owned the worst record in baseball.

Another significant step, one towards the playoffs where the D-backs have not been since 2011, is expected to be taken this year.

“(The front office) showed that they want to win and they want to win now,” Collmenter said. “We have a lot of young talent, great offense, good defense and now you add in the pitching, the depth from top to bottom, there’s really no weaknesses on this team.”

To no one’s surprise, Hale announced Greinke, signed to a club-record six-year, $206.5 million contract, as his Opening Day starter with Miller and left-hander Patrick Corbin to follow in an order to be determined.

The back end of the rotation will be filled by a group that includes Rubby De La Rosa, Robbie Ray, Archie Bradley, Zack Godley and Tyler Wagner.

“We can be really good,” Ray said. “We’ve got a lot of good guys on this team. With Greinke at the top and you’ve got Miller and Corbin coming back from Tommy John (surgery), it’s really good.”

Hale said he hopes to break camp with 12 pitchers, which would leave seven bullpen spots. Six of those appear to be locked up with Brad Ziegler, Daniel Hudson, Andrew Chafin, Randall Delgado, Clippard and Collmenter.

Handling the pitching staff will be catchers Welington Castillo and Tuffy Gosewisch, who is fully healthy after knee surgery.

The first workout for pitchers and catchers is Thursday.

Competition among position players will center up the middle.

Segura is expected to get the first crack at landing the shortstop job, even though Nick Ahmed is the incumbent.

Segura can also play second base, where Chris Owings and Phil Gosselin will also be in the mix.

“It’s going to be a good fight,” Hale said. “I believe with Nick Ahmed, Chris Owings and Jean Segura, we have three above average major-league shortstops; all three of them with varying ceilings defensively.”

Jake Lamb has a “leg up” on Brandon Drury to win the third base job, according to Hale.

In the outfield, Hale said they’re moving David Peralta to right field and Yasmany Tomas to left field.

“We wouldn’t move them unless we thought it would make our team better, and we wanted to do it now so Yasmany gets as many reps as he can in left and David will get them all in right,” said Hale, who added Tomas “looks great” after a full offseason of conditioning.

By the way, position players don’t officially report until next week; though many, like Ahmed, Peralta and Pollock, were spotted in the clubhouse Wednesday and have been in the facility for a while now.

“What I’ve noticed out on the field is a little more intensity, just in their eyes and in the way they’re going about the bullpens that guys have been throwing, some of the BPs (batting practice) we’ve watched,” Hale said. “There’s a real seriousness to it, so I think they feel something special.”

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